“Neuroplasticity… the capacity of the brain to develop and change throughout life, something Western science once thought impossible.” Merriam-Webster.com
As we get older, we have come to expect some minor lapses in memory and some cognitive decline. We can’t find our keys – or our cell phone – or we walk into a room and can’t remember why. We tend to shrug these off as “senior moments,” a not very complimentary approach.
But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if, with a little “exercise,” we could maintain all of our cognitive functioning? There are many studies now regarding the brain’s neuroplasticity and the ability of the brain to change and rewire itself over our lifetimes. I found a wonderful little video on you tube. It is presented by Booming Encore and is an interview with Barbara Arrowsmith Young, an expert in this area. There is a link to the video at the end of this blog. She states that the brain is capable of change across our lifetime and that change can be negative or positive, depending on our mindset. If directed positively, it can enhance cognitive function.
Our brains are capable of growing new neurons and increasing dendrites, which presents an incredible area of opportunity and growth for the aging brain. Scientists used to believe that around age 12, the window of neuroplasticity closes and the brain you have then is the brain you will have for the rest of your life. They now know that is not the case and have in fact, seen the same degree of neuroplasticity in as 80 year old as a 12 year old.
The way to keep the brain “young” is to keep it active and stimulated. Barbara Arrowsmith Young has some suggestions. 1) Pick something you enjoy, an activity that you will do over time for about 20 minutes a day. It could be learning a new language, learning to dance, a new hobby or many other things. The activity should be a strain but an attainable strain. As it becomes easy, then increase the level of difficulty and make it more complex. 2) Get enough restful sleep – it is so important. 3) Physical exercise – if it’s good for the heart, it is good for the brain as that means more blood circulating to the brain. 4) Reduce stress – stress increases the production of cortisol which is like an acid bath for the brain (definitely not a pleasant thought!) 5. Practice gratitude – keep a journal. 6 Meditate (you had to know that one was coming!) These activities are like cross fit training for your brain.
If you aren’t doing any of these activities, pick one and start. If you are doing some, add another. If you are doing all of them – YAY for you! Your brain loves you!